On Friday, May 24, 2013, President Obama signed a Congressional bill bestowing posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal to the four victims of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing: 11-year -old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthis Wesley. NAFUSA board member Doug Jones, shown left, was invited to attend the ceremony at the White House. Jones, during his service as United States Attorney, was the lead prosecutor in the 2001 and 2002 convictions of two men for the church bombing, nearly 40 years after the 1963 bombing. The ceremony was also attended by the mayor of Birmingham and surviving relatives of the four victims.
In an interview with The Birmingham News, Jones said:
It’s hard to describe how special it is being there in the Oval Office with the first African American president, who really is in that office in part because of the deaths of those four girls. It’s indescribable what it means to me.
As reported by The Birmingham News, Jones called the Gold Medal and other commemoration activities in Birmingham this year important for several reasons. Events in Birmingham 50 years ago had world-wide significance, changing policy in this county, and inspiring human rights efforts elsewhere, Jones explained.
The lessons of Birmingham from 1963 show what can be done to change people’s hearts, people’s minds and give everyone access to civil rights. That was one of the pivotal points in the county’s history for basic civil rights.
Jones called the civil rights era a revolution that should be celebrated just as the nation continues to celebrate the American Revolution.